Friday, 6 January 2017

December in the Margalla Hills, Islamabad

It has been a Thrush bonanza in the Margalla Hills during December 2016 and RMK and the Birding Islamabad Team were out and about with their cameras to record some of the species that graced the hillsides and trails.

Many of these species are altitudnal migrants that move down the hills during the bitterly cold weather experienced higher up in the mountains.

One big surprise was the Oramge-headed Thrush. Normally, this species is a summer breeding visitor to the Margalla Hills but the one recorded by the Team was unseasonably present during December. Orange-headed Thrushes that are recorded in Pakistan normally migrate to warmer locations in India during the winter months. There is no doubt ornithology is always creating surprises for us Birders to experience.

Congratulations to the Team for another wonderful collection of photographs and we hope our Readers enjoy seeing them. These winter months can provide some of the best birding around Islamabad so, please get out into the field and see what gems you can discover. Have a Happy and bird-filled New Year!

Margalla Hills are a Birding Heaven 

Hello Readers RMK here from Islamabad. We haven’t experienced rain for a long time and the birds and bird photographers had an amazing time with all sorts of birds of the summer and winter. Seeing winters and summers birds together was a great treat. The gorgeous Orange-headed thrush was beautiful captured by ZR.

My friend ZR is an amazing boy behind the lens. When Islbirder was leaving, I thought probably life will be boring here in Islamabad for me going alone for birds. Though I still miss him as the best birder and amazing buddy I have ever encountered in my birding life but ZR somehow filled the space and together myself RMK (aka SWABI BIRDER) and ZR have done a lot to keep moving the mission of my friend and my buddy Islbirder.

Trail 5 and the surrounding woodland has been the place we have been working together near the water sources and we found some hundreds of Black-throated Thrushes this year. The water sources have been squeezed because of the dry weather and we found Thrushes near the stream.

ZR has some good time with a new bird, a Besra (the only previous record being a report of a specimen that was collected in the Murree Hills many years ago). The Trial has been the hunting ground of a Eurasian Sparrowhawk looking for passerines and these beautiful portraits by ZR are amazing.

I get less time to visit the birds but managed to take some shots of Thrushes, Spot-winged Tit, Green-backed Tit, Black-throated Babbler and some others in a few days.I remember when Islbirder was here in Islamabad, we saw Rufous Sibia once and then we were very happy that day. Last weekend I had a beautiful setting near a water source for the Sibia and I was lucky to get him on the perch I setup for him.

Brown Crake was once a rare and threatened species but somehow their numbers have increased tremendously. I got the shot of the Crake from my car near the marshes area.
Margalla Hills, Islamabad offers a variety of birds to the people of the city and the visitors. The number of birders and photographers are on the increase and I am hopeful that greater awareness of birds and the habitat they need will be increased through our images and our Blog.

We wish our readers Happy Year 2017 and good luck for the days ahead.

Orange-headed Thrush
Blue Whistling Thrush
Male Grey-winged Blackbird
Female Grey-winged Blackbird
First-winter Grey-winged Blkackbird
Male Black-throated Thrush
Female Black-throated Thrush
A group of Red-billed Leiothrix
The normally secretive Black-chinned Babbler
No, you don't need to get up before dawn to see a male Kalij Pheasant
Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler
Rufous Sibia
Another Rufous Sibia
The rare and elusive Whistler's Warbler
Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler
The rare and very local Brown Crake
Green-backed Tit
Spot-winged Tit
Jungle Babbler
A bathing Variegated Laughingthrush
White-capped Bunting
Male Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Another superb Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Rufous-breasted Accentor

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Beautiful Birds & Scenery of the High Tops by Imran Shah

Dear Riaz Sir, I know it has been quite a while since Zahran asked me to share this account, but anyhow I am doing this now:

I visited Aliabad (my hometown) on 15 May 2016. Thinking about my sighting of Black Kites and Booted Eagles during the previous November, I went to a ledge near the Hunza River in Aliabad. There I spotted two Booted Eagles. Ravens and Large-billed Crows were attacking them and both flew towards the high mountains, north-east above Karimabad.

Next day on 16 May, I went to Karimabad to have a look at the Ultar area above Karimabad. There I saw a Golden Eagle, hovering quite high, but it seemed to have go up the valley. Luckily that night I was having a small party with some friends and we planned a three-day hike to Khuwhat top, a 4000+ m high alpine pasture above Altit village. So we hiked to the area on 17 May and returned on 19. It’s a continuous ascending hike starting from 2700m to an altitude of 4200m and the ascent took around five hours.

Hunza/Naga Valley Imran Shah
You can see from left to right Trivor Peak, Diran Peak, Rakaposhi (central), Lady Finger, Hunza Peak and Ultar Sar, above the main Hunza/Naga Valley.

Shepherd's Hut Imran Shah
The birding experience for the area was one of my best, as during these four days, I was able to spot and document no less than nine species of raptor and Himalayan Snowcock. The number of Snowcocks above 3500m and below snowline was substantial. On average I spotted 30 to 40 birds every day of the hike, mostly perched in the small grassy gorges between the sheer cliffs and avoiding the open areas; probably because of the raptors or our presence.

Himalayan Snowcock Imran Shah
During the trip I was able to spot Black Kites, about five or six from 2400m up to 4000m. Most of these Kites had worn feathers, because of moulting or some other reason.

Black Kite Imran Shah

Booted Eagles, two at Aliabad (2400m) on 15 May, 2 more at around 3000m on 17 May and another on 19 May on way down at 3500 m.

Booted Eagle Imran Shah
Common Kestrel, just one during the ascent.

Female Common Kestrel Imran Shah
Lammergeier, I saw these mostly flying around 4000m. These must be resident here, as there were both adults and juveniles. Additionally there is a gorge in the area called Garmun Har, meaning Lammergeier Gorge. According to locals Lammergeier and Golden Eagles do prey on Himalayan Snowcocks. During the three days I made 10 to 12 sightings but some might have been repeated sightings of a single bird.

Lammergeier Imran Shah
Oriental Honey Buzzard; these were quite numerous. I only saw these above 3500m. They were only flying down the valley; I imagined they were making their southwards migration. In terms of numbers; on 17 May about up to three, on 18 about 20 to 30 and on 19 about five. These Buzzards also interacted with Lammergeier, nothing aggressive, they just seemed to fly around the bigger bird.

Oriental Honey Buzzard Imran Shah
Himalayan Griffon, These were also quite numerous. During the three days I saw about 15 birds. Again these were a mix of adults and juveniles. These Griffons were flying all around the valley. Hugging the cliffs they were flying both upstream and downstream, probably searching for food.

Himalayan Griffon Imran Shah
Eurasian Sparrowhawk, just two sightings, 1 at Duikar (2700m) and a second one at the top (4200m). Anyhow Sparrowhawk is a common sight in Hunza. The only interesting thing was, the second Sparrowhawk had quite worn feathers.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Imran Shah
Golden Eagle, four sightings, one at Karimabad (2500m) and three at Khuwhat (above 3500m). I assume they are quite common in Gilgit region this year, as I have seen them in Gilgit, Juglot Guro, Aliabad, Karimabad and Gojal.

Golden Eagle Imran Shah
Eurasian Hobby, a single one on 19 May at 3000m.

Eurasian Hobby Imran Shah
Apart from the raptors the birds spotted during the four-day trip were:

Chukar Partridge (up to 4000m)
Himalayan Snowcock (up to 4000m)
Scaly-bellied Woodpecker (up to 3000m)
Common Hoopoe (up to 3000m)
Black-billed Magpie (up to 4000m)
Red-billed Chough (up to 4000m)
Yellow-billed Chough (up to 4000m)
Large-billed Crow (up to 3000m)
Common Raven (up to 4000m)
Indian Golden Oriole (up to 3000m) (now split from Eurasian Golden Oriole)
Blue Rock Thrush (up to 3000m)
Blue Whistling Thrush (up to 3000m)
Eurasian Blackbird (up to 4000m)
Blue-capped Redstart (up to 4000m)
Black Redstart (up to 3500m)
Siberian Stonechat (up to 3500m)
Pied Wheatear (up to 3500m)
Bar-tailed Tree-creeper (up to 4000m)
Cinereous Tit (up to 3000m)
Eurasian Crag Martin (up to 4000m)
Hume’s Lesser Whitethroat (up to 3500m) (now split from Lesser Whitethroat)
Common Chiffchaff (up to 4000m)
Tickell's Leaf Warbler (up to 4000m)
Sulphur-bellied Warbler (up to 3500m)
Greenish Warbler (up to 3000m)
House Sparrow (up to 3000m)
Brown Accentor (up to 3500m)
Plain Mountain Finch (up to 4000m)
Fire-fronted Serin (up to 4000m)
Eurasian Goldfinch (up to 3000m)
Common Rosefinch (up to 3000m)
White-winged Grosbeak (up to 4000m)
Rock Bunting (up to 4000m)
White-capped Bunting (up to 4000m)

ISLBIRDER: I am so very jealous, Imran, about your trip to the high tops and the wonderful birds and scenery you encountered. Your photographs are superb and your artistry in composing the shot of the Shepherd’s Hut is magical. To see that many Himalayan Snowcocks must have been memorable.

Pakistan has so much to offer eco-tourists and there is huge potential for knowledgeable and capable people like you Imran and Riaz to act as Guides for visiting birders. The income generated could persuade local people and district government offices that preserving Pakistan’s wildlife will benefit all concerned.

Keep up the great work and thank you for letting us share your experiences Imran.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Imran Shah: Birding Gojal Tesil & A First Record for Pakistan!

Imran Shah has been visiting Borith Lake in Gojal Tesil for the last six years and he shares with us here some superb photographs of a selection of birds that he has observed. I’ll let Imran give us his account of this amazing location:

Borith Lake is a small saline body of water in the Gojal Tehsil of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, measuring about 850m in length and 270m at its widest. The lake is located in a small depression in above main Gojal valley, at an elevation of about 2600 metres. Geographically it is interesting due to the fact that the lake lies between the Passu and Ghulkin Glaciers, on the northern and southern sides, on the west lies the great Batura Muztagh, with some of the 7000 metre peaks like Batura Sar (7,795m), Shispare (7,611m), Passu Sar (7,476m) Ultar Sar (7,388m) and Sangemarmar Sar (7,000m). It lies approximately 5 km to the north of Gulmit, and can be reached via a 2 km unpaved road from Husseini village, on the main Karakorum Highway. The site is an important sanctuary for migrating waterfowl and other birds. To witness the highest diversity and number of birds Borith Lake should be visited from September to May, although the lake offers great diversity of species all year.

Pakistan's Forst Recorded Black-legged Kittiwake (adult in winter plumage) Imran Shah

Greylag Geese with Pintail, Pochard, Mallard, Gadwall & Coot Imran Shah

Common Shelduck with Gadwall, Coot & Pintail Imran Shah
Male Common Pochard Imran Shah
Ruddy Shelduck Imran Shah
Red-crested Pochard Imran Shah
Tufted Duck Imran Shah

Slavonian Grebe Imran Shah
Common Redshank Imran Shah
Brown-headed Gull Imran Shah
Pallas's Gull Imran Shah
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Imran Shah
Eurasian Hobby Imran Shah
Common Kestrel (trying to imitate Lesser Kestrel) Imran Shah
First-winter Male Black-throated Thrush Imran Shah
White-winged Redstart Imran Shah
Rufous-backed Redstart Imran Shah
Eurasian Skylark Imran Shah
Common Starling Imran Shah
First-winter male Spanish Sparrow Imran Shah
Eurasian Siskin Imran Shah
For birding, I have been visiting Borith Lake for last six years, but during the last three years I have been regularly visiting the area during all months. The significance of this bird sanctuary, is apparent from the fact that in an area of less than one square kilometre, I have been able to photo-document more than 110 bird species:

Greylag Goose (Anser anser)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)
Common Teal (Anas crecca)
Garganey (Anas querquedula)
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina)
Ferruginous Pochard (Aythya nyroca)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Chukar (Alectoris chukar)
Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus)
Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis)
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata)
Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
Eurasian Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
Himalayan Buzzard (Buteo refectus)
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo)
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla)
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii)
Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Brown-headed Gull (Larus brunnicephalus)
Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
Pallas's Gull (Larus ichthyaetus)
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)
Hill Pigeon (Columba rupestris)
Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis)
Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
European Roller (Coracias garrulus)
Scaly-bellied Woodpecker (Picus squamatus)
Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla)
Eurasian Crag Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
Northern House Martin (Delichon urbicum)
Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
Rosy Pipit (Anthus roseatus)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)
Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola)
Brown Accentor (Prunella fulvescens)
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Güldenstädt’s (White-winged) Redstart (Phoenicurus erythrogastrus)
Eversmann’s (Rufous-backed) Redstart (Phoenicurus erythronotus)
Variable Wheatear (Oenanthe picata)
Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)
Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti)
Siberian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus)
Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)
Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush (Monticola saxitilis)
Blue Whistling Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus)
Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
Black-throated Thrush (Turdus atrogularis)
White-browed Tit Warbler (Leptopoecile sophiae)
Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)
Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)
Booted Warbler (Iduna caligata)
Sulphur-bellied Warbler (Phylloscopus griseolus)
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Mountain Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus sindianus)
Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides)
Hume's Warbler (Phylloscopus humei)
Northern Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria)
Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach)
Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis)
Common Magpie (Pica pica)
Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)
Yellow-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Rose-coloured Starling (Pastor roseus)
Indian Golden Oriole (Oriolus kundoo)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis)
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Eurasian Siskin (Spinus spinus)
Eurasian Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
Fire-fronted Serin (Serinus pusillus)
Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus)
Plain Mountain Finch (Leucosticte nemoricola)
White-winged Grosbeak (Mycerobas carnipes)
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Grey-necked Bunting (Emberiza buchanani)
White-capped Bunting (Emberiza stewarti)
Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)
(Updated to take into account recent taxonomic changes)

Compared to the previous year, the winter of 2016 proved to be quite interesting. Gulls were a fascinating addition to the list of birds at Borith Lake. In my all previous visits I only spotted only one or two Caspian Gulls. However this year in a span of one month the lake was visited by Black-headed Gulls (6), Caspian Gulls (10), Brown-headed Gulls (3 or 4), Pallas's Gulls (2) and the most interesting observation was a single Black-legged Kittiwake on 12th of December. Most of these gulls were observed at the lake in extremely windy, cold and cloudy conditions.

Also interesting to note was the observation of Eurasian Siskins and Slavonian Grebes. Eurasian Siskins were present in the area from November to December, with highest number of about 10 birds observed on 11 November 2016, and a single pair of Slavonian Grebes was spotted on the 14 December 2016. This year was also interesting in terms of Anseriformes; some of the interesting finds were both the Common and Ruddy Shelducks.

ISLBIRDER: The Black-legged Kittiwake is the first ever, recorded in Pakistan and I congratulate Imran on this fantastic achievement. Slavonian Grebe is a rare vagrant to the country (only four previous records) and subject to some further research, I believe, Eurasian Siskin is another first for Pakistan.

There are so many little watched areas of Pakistan as far as birding is concerned and who knows what ornithological riches are out there waiting to be found. The regular watching of your “local patch” is a great way of increasing our knowledge regarding birds in Pakistan and has the potential of turning up rare and interesting species.

I really look forward to receiving more records from Imran and we are privileged, here at Islamabad Birding, to be able to share Imran’s experiences and photographs with our many tens of thousands of readers.